Rebuilding the American Islands

Updated on November 5, 2017

Don't Forget About Hawaii

After the Caribbean islands controlled by the United States were hit by hurricanes in September, the response for aid has been under constant scrutiny due to the claims by the president that it is harder to help a nation that sits in the ocean. First, let's be clear that these are not independent nations, but territories controlled by the United States. I am referring specifically to the territories of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. There are definitely more logistical challenges to respond to an island that has suffered the devastation of a hurricane compared to the response we can give a state that is hit on the mainland, but that can be overcome by preparation for the pending disaster, especially when you have at least a week or more of advance warning.

The people of these island territories had just as much warning as the people of Texas, Louisiana, and Florida. The biggest difference was they may not have had the means to evacuate as easily as the people of the states on the mainland. Therefore, these people had to weather two of the most violent storms in the last hundred years. The entire infrastructure of the islands were destroyed as well as all forms of communication, leaving people with no way to contact relatives to check on their well being. But modern technology allowed reporters from major news networks to broadcast during and after the storms passed through to show the damage that was done and the plight of the people who were in desperate need of supplies and medical attention to survive. Although the Virgin Islands were hit hardest by Hurricane Irma, they received less media attention than all of the other areas hit by the hurricanes. The most attention they got was when Trump said he met with their president after a recent visit. It then became obvious that he didn't know he was the president of the Virgin Islands and he was actually meeting with the governor. They took a direct hit before Irma made landfall on Florida while Puerto Rico received minor damage.

Then came a second hit from Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico head on and then delivered more damage to the Virgin Islands. This left Puerto Rico in total devastation. While the people were waiting on supplies from the mainland, we saw images of thousands of cargo containers of supplies sitting in a staging area waiting to be distributed to the citizens. It became an issue of who was to distribute the supplies to the different parts of the island. We began to see images of the destruction of the major urban areas, but the remote countryside was shut off from the rest of the island due to the roads and bridges that were demolished by the storms. The news outlets were finding people where others feared to tread. Because of their reporting, many lives were saved. The president then started saying things that showed the people that he didn't really care about them, mainly because he did not consider them as his problem. He constantly has to be reminded that despite the fact that they live on islands, they are still Americans. He has even told them that they can't receive aid from the United States forever and has threatened to pull the military out before relief efforts have been completed.

There is a lot to be done to restore these islands back to the point where they can manage themselves. It has been over a month and electricity has not been restored to most of the island. There is no water supply. There is no food supply. Homes are destroyed and people have no where to live, or are living in homes that are partially demolished. There is a naval hospital ship that has 250 beds but less than 50 are occupied due to the criteria used to allow access to the medical facility. Who determines who is to get help? How are people transported to the ship? I'm sure this will be worked out before too many people die, but this should have already been figured out. What we are seeing is there was no plan or forethought. In fact, it was Hillary Clinton that urged Trump to send the U.S.S Comfort to the region.

Let's face the facts. Hurricane relief has been terrible for years, but we should have learned how to deal with relief from past experiences. As I stated earlier, we get plenty of warning where and when a hurricane is going to hit. We have always seen the military come to the rescue days after a hurricane hits. There should already be a hurricane fleet positioned and waiting offshore that includes an aircraft carrier, a hospital ship, and an amphibious landing ship. The military should be ready to go in and perform rescue operations just as they would if they were attacking a beach to set up a command post. There is no excuse for a slow response whether it be on the mainland or an island. In today's world they should be able to go in and restore electricity and telephone communications within days.

I said all of the above to say this. If the president thinks that getting help to islands that are in the Caribbean is a challenge, what is he going to do if something happens to Hawaii or Guam should North Korea decide to launch an attack on them. Is Trump able to provide relief to these places that are twice as far away as the U.S. territories in the Caribbean? What if something should happen to Alaska? Is it going to be too difficult to get to them also due to the cold? Is he really going to care? If he thinks President Obama was not born in the U.S. does that mean he doesn't think Hawaii is part of the United States either? If he thinks Puerto Rico sits in the middle of an ocean, what happens when the state that does sit in the middle of the ocean needs help? It's a good thing that there is already a military base there, but how long would it take to get help there should it become necessary? Hawaii has been hit by hurricanes, tsunamis from earthquakes, and even volcanic eruptions. None of these are predictable, so let's hope nothing happens to test this president's emergency response. It hasn't been great so far.


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